If you want to banish the blues, go to Los Andes, the bustling, delicious, affordable Peruvian restaurant in Providence. It was there that the F & R clan occupied a table for eight last night. Instant joy. You have to be a pathological depressive not to have a good time at Los Andes. Service is swift, smiling and efficient. Portions are generous. Pisco sours and red wine sangria are state of the art. The meal began with platters of ceviche—fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid “cooked” in lime juice, vinegar and assorted apices and peppers. Crisp fried calamari. Then on to wonderful short ribs and a big, mixed grill of chicken, beef and blood sausage. Fried rice laced with pork belly, mushrooms and eggs. Cheesy rice. Russian salad. Sweet potato. Fried yucca. A very distinctive Peruvian treat: Whipped potatoes with a topping of shredded chicken, vegetables, cheese and mayonnaise. Chocolate cake and Tres Lechese cake (with loads of whipped cream) were shared by the table for dessert. Another memorable family outing. Before bedtime, generous Massimo R. poured a glass of fine chilled grappa for HG. Slumber followed.
HG has mentioned in previous posts that a favorite guilty treat was the chow mein sandwich served at Nathan’s in Coney Island (or in the short lived branch near Times Square). It was simple. Traditional corn starch enhanced New York chow mein served in a small hamburger bun lined with crispy noodles. HG gave it a dash of soy sauce and managed to dispatch the messy sandwich without staining clothing. SJ recalled reading an article by the regional food mavens Jane & Michael Stern that this sandwich survives and prospers in the gritty mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts. So, the F & R clan set off to Fall River, once a great textile manufacturing center. Huge mills (now put to a variety of uses) still adorn the streets. First stop was Portugalia Market, a big, sparkling market that could be described as a Portuguese Zabar’s. Big selection of Portuguese wines (HG scored bottles of very good Pinho Verde Rose plus some Ruby Port). The group bought much Portuguese chourico, cheese, custard tarts, canned sardines, jarred tuna, figs, etc. All marveled at a semi-detatched bacala room with towering stacks of dried codfish. While the group lunched on toasted cheese and sausage sandwiches (they later went off to tour a battleship and submarine docked on the Fall River waterfront), HG and SJ were off to Mee Sum Chinese Restaurant to sample the chow mein sandwich served the same way since the 1920s. The duo sipped Pina Coladas in Tiki cups as they ate the very unusual and surprising sandwiches. The hamburger bun sandwich sat atop a generous bowl of crispy noodles (best ever) floating in a dark brown, Chinese oyster sauce based sauce laced with onions and celery. This was a knife and fork dish. Not a sandwich. HG loved it. Devoured it with gusto. SJ’s enthusiasm was more restrained. SJ posted a photo of the dish on Facebook. Comments were derogatory. Okay, HG admits that it’s a very special taste but a real regional specialty that deserves attention. In any case, Fall River is a great food town. Lesley R. picked up great little meat and vegetable pies at Sam’s bakery. There are lots of Portuguese restaurants featuring savory clam dishes and garlic laden Portuguese steak. For snacking, lots of hole in the wall Mom-and-Pop eateries feature Coneys (hot dogs) smothered in chili sauce and chopped onions. And, one can also snare slices of feta cheese pizzas. It’s a happy heartburn town.
SJ plus pals. Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru, Adorable Teru. HG and BSK. All gathered around a big table at Mister Hotpot in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown. A joyous celebration of SJ’s birthday. As the name suggests, Mr. Hotpot is a hot pot restaurant — but elevated with a wonderfully curated selection of high quality seafood, meat and veggies. Mister Hotpot delivers a unique, milky, homemade Pork bone broth which is the basis of the meal. This delicious broth (which only gets better as different selections cook in its depths) simmers upon electric burners set into the table. The happy diners cooked a variety of vegetables, udon and rice noodles, slices of beef, whole crab, shrimp, home-made won-tons, shrimp paste and more in the savory broth. A variety of spicy condiments enhanced the food. Lots of sake, beer, two varieties of vodka gave emphasis to the merriment. A birthday party to savor and remember fondly.
The HG/BSK multi-ethnic clan (Italian, English, Welsh, Jewish, Belorussian, Japanese) celebrated Hanukkah (Handsome Haru lit the candles) by reprising their Christmas Eve feast of Jewish smoked fish (from New York’s Russ & Daughters). A delicious family custom was observed. SJ made a big platter of wonderful potato pancakes. Best latkes ever — crisp, light and not leaden with oil. Lesley R. added crepes. HG had potato pancakes covered with slices of sable, chopped onions, creme fraiche. SJ growled with pleasure as he covered his latkes with creme fraiche, wasabi tobiko and salmon roe. Crepes got a similar treatment with smoked salmon. The rest of the family did their own variations. HG drank icy vodka with beer chasers (early bedtime). Dessert was a wonderful flan provided by a lady of Portuguese ancestry. Topped with whipped cream, it was (HG had to admit) better than any flan HG had consumed in New Mexico.
Arrived in Riverside, R.I. a few days ago, and HG/BSK (and Handsome Haru) were greeted by loving Lesley, Massimo, Sofia and Arianna (plus Pip, the doggy with the high IQ). Lucky HG/BSK to have such a splendid family. Among the delights was a reunion with Toby, The Wonder Dog, unscathed after his lengthy voyage aboard United. There was ambiguity in Toby’s welcome of HG/BSK. After all, the duo had caged him and abandoned him to United Airlines. However, after a bit the furry little fellow let bygones be bygones and was indulged with numerous belly rubs. Wondrous Lesley R. served a dinner of spicy shrimp and grits (clams and grits for crustacean allergic BSK). Super yums. Platter of flavoful cheese and Harry and David pears. Vodka, red wine and limoncello enlivened HG (before inevitable drowse). Christmas food shopping the next day. Lesley R. had sourced (online) a home style Vermont organic ham smoked over corn cobs. Served it for dinner. Delicious. It was a ham from the past when ham tasted like ham and not meat infused with water, sugar, chemicals, etc. On the table were cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, a variety of mustards plus horse radish. HG, despite family disdain, opted for Whole Foods potato salad rather than the home made variety. HG likes WF’s mayonnaise infused version. However, when in Paris, HG enjoys the oil and vinegar flavored warm potato salad served with grilled saucisson. C’est la vie.
After a long day of exhausting travel, Holiday feasting began upon arrival at the Brooklyn home of SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and enchanting Teru. Jolly welcome. HG/BSK found comforting warmth in bowls of SJ’s chickpea, rosemary and tomato soup. This soup is SJ’s creative take on the classic Marcella Hazan recipe. Rather than leaving the garbanzos whole, SJ adds real Spanish chorizo to the basic ingredients and blends the whole thing into a smooth and earthy soup, redolent of rosemary and finished with cubes of crisp guanciale. This was followed by an exuberant platter of varied cheese from the Fairway market and lots of red wine and vodka. Plus, splendid Tuscan salami and Spanish ham. Delight. Thoughtful SJ gave HG/BSK a bag of bagels and bialys plus Ben’s Scallion Cream Cheese (the best!) for breakfast in HG/BSK’s temporary Prospect Heights home.
SJ scored again with the traditional fish feast on Christmas eve with the usual Jewish twist. SJ, in his annual ritual, finished DJing at 4:30 am and headed right to Russ & Daughters so he could be first on line on Christmas Eve day. R & D is a New York landmark for herring and smoked fish and knowing SJ sourced a feast and motored it bak to the family gathering in Riverside, R.I. Here were some of the goodies: Nova Scotia smoked salmon; smoky New Zealand smoked salmon; Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, whole Dutch herring; pickled herring; wasabi tobiko; smoked yellowfin tuna; sable, whitefish salad, creme fraiche, wild Alaskan red salmon caviar; American hackleback black caviar. The fixings: Lemon wedges, chopped onion, thin sliced rings of onion, capers, scallion cream cheese, regular cream cheese. The breads: Bagels, bialys, buttered toast (for the American caviar); thinly sliced Baltic dark rye bread. Wow. To drink: Prosecco; white wine; rose wine; Tito’s vodka; Bass ale. Big time feast. Opened a few presents (that’s the family custom). No room for dessert. Off to bed for big time morning present opening and reprise of the evening feast (plus SJ’s super potato latkes). HG is convinced that no family celebrates the holidays with more joy and culinary delights.
Among the varied talents of HG’s beloved life partner (53 years) BSK is mastery of egg cooking. BSK introduced HG to the breakfast pleasure of “egg and soldiers” at the inception of their marriage. The dish is simple: A perfect soft boiled egg nestled in an egg cup. Dip strips of buttered toast (the “soldiers”) in the egg. Joy. Lately, some Parisian bistros are serving this dish as a starter. BSK’s poached eggs are perfect (hard to find good poached eggs in restaurants). For a hearty breakfast, BSK serves them atop butter and cheese infused grits or polenta. BSK’s creamy, soft scrambled eggs on toasted Thomas English Muffins are an indulgence, They scale gourmet heights when topped with red salmon caviar (from Zabar’s or Russ & Daughters) and sour cream. A perfect light dinner is a BSK omelet accompanied by a baguette, green salad and red wine. BSK’s omelets have crisp edges and lush, soft interiors. BSK folds these wonders around a variety of stuffings: feta cheese; bacon; pancetta, sauteed peppers, onions and zucchini; mushrooms; asparagus (when in season). Better omelets than New York’s fabled omelet shrine, Mme. Romaine de Lyon (long closed, alas). Mel Brooks wrote the screenplay for “The Producers” (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) while eating there. BSK’s omelets only inspire HG’s sparkling prose on hungrygerald.com.
How to explain HG’s passionate attachment to vodka? There was a time when HG was the spokesman for Vodka Wyborowa, the superior Polish vodka. HG always had a plentiful (gratis) supply available. Those were the days (1959-1963) when Russian cavIar was cheap. (Caviarteria was HG’s source). Buttered toast (Pepperidge Farm thin sliced white toast) topped with a big spoonful of Beluga. (No lemon or other useless condiments.) Vodka Wyborowa from the freezer. Ah!!!! HG’s vodka love can be traced back to HG’s Belorussian ancestry (HG’s ancestors distilled vodka as part of their mill operations.). Strangely, HG never saw his beloved father, Hershele Zvi Freimann, ever drink vodka. His alcoholic indulgences were Park & Tilford rye whiskey, home brewed cherry brandy (Vishniak), and Slivovitz (fiery plum brandy). Unlike his son, Hershele had a happy time but never got drunk.
The Christmas season in New Mexico is magical. Candelarias (votive candles in brown paper bags glow from rooftops. The hotels and other large buildings use electric lights in plastic bags (not as traditional, but probably safer). And, the air is suffused with the heady aroma of burning pinon logs. Because of stormy weather in the midwest, flights have been canceled and HG/BSK have had to delay their departure for holiday fun in Rhode Island, New York and Brooklyn. Toby, The Wonder Dog, will accompany HG/BSK on the voyage east. The little guy will add to the holiday merriment.
Yes, errors do happen at holiday family feasts. One Christmas, HG/BSK decided to cook a goose rather than a traditional turkey. Very, very tough bird. A chain saw would have come in handy for carving purposes. There was another Christmas when gifted daughter Lesley R. (a talented cook) prepared mushroom soup using dried Italian porcini mushrooms. As the soup cooked worms appeared. Don’t know what Lesley did but the worms disappeared (immersion blender?). The soup was delicious and no one had unpleasant after effects. Another time, Lesley roasted rutabagas all night in the kitchen which opened on HG/BSK’s guest bedroom. HG/BSK awakened smelling like root vegetables. HG’s holiday feast mishaps were caused by alcoholic overindulgence. One New Jersey Thanksgiving, HG greeted guests with a glass of chilled Polish vodka in hand. There were many guests and many glasses of white lightning. HG ended the meal by taking a nap under the table. (withering, but futile, criticism from BSK, who over the years has made only a slight dent in HG’s vodka consumption). And, there was a smoked bluefish, sautéed bay scallop, lobster and just picked corn feast on a Fourth of July celebration at HG/BSK’s salt box home on Nantucket Island. A guest (who was a talented mixologist) made rum punch as an after dinner libation. HG insisted that his punch have black rum floating on top. Yes, there was black rum on top and HG ended, once again, snoozing beneath the table. Restraint? Moderation? HG will keep these useful words in mind during upcoming festivities.